A new global ethics
Why we need a global ethics
Development is a complex and ambitious endeavour. To secure for all human beings in all
parts of the world the conditions allowing a decent and meaningful life requires enormous
human energies and far-reaching changes in policies. The task is all the more demanding as
the world faces numerous other problems, each related to or even part of the development
challenge, each similarly pressing, and each calling for the same urgent attention. But,
as Arnold Toynbee has said, "Our age is the first generation since the dawn of
history in which mankind dares to believe it practical to make the benefits of
civilization available to the whole human race."
The magnitude of these problems is without precedent. Achieving significant
improvements will depend on the co-operation and the good will of innumerable people all
over the world. Securing a better future for all may involve sacrifices and will require
profound changes in attitudes (including cultural attitudes) and behaviour, not least in
people's social priorities, the educational system, the patterns of consumption, and even
the most basic beliefs about how the individual should relate to society and the earth.
Governments and political leaders will have to play a crucial role in convincing their
citizens of the need for change and in suggesting novel political, economic and social
strategies. Yet much will depend on the citizens' own willingness to confront the
disturbing facts, to draw their own conclusions, and put them into practice in daily life.
It will also depend on their ability to make governments responsive to social needs and
Ever since the emergence of Homo Sapiens, human groups have been able to exchange
discoveries and innovations, institutional experience and knowledge. Societies have
evolved through the co-operation of peoples with contrasting cultures and it is important
to promote cultural conviviality, through new socio-political agreements that should be
negotiated in the framework of a global ethics.
Co-operation between different peoples with different interests and from different
cultures will be facilitated and conflict kept within acceptable and even constructive
limits, if participants can see themselves as being bound and motivated by shared
commitments. It is, therefore, imperative to look for a core of shared ethical values and
Undoubtedly, the potential for positive change resides in the values that determine our
behaviour. The Commission considers it one of its tasks to sketch the contours of a global
ethics and to examine what contribution culture can make. In its search for a new ethical
orientation, the Commission is not alone but rather resumes various efforts already being
undertaken by a number of thinkers and by the recent Commission on Global Governance. The
realities of the emerging global neighbourhood require, says the body's report, that
[We] should develop a global ethics that applies equally to all those involved in world
affairs. Its efficacy will depend on the ability of people and governments to transcend
narrow self-interests and agree that the interests of humanity as a whole will be best
served by acceptance of a set of common rights and responsibilities.
This points to where we must go. The idea is that the values and principles of a global
ethics should be the shared points of reference, providing the minimal moral guidance the
world must heed in its manifold efforts to tackle the global issues outlined above.